As Northwestern expands its efforts to grow campus diversity, multicultural and LGBTQ campus organizations have pushed for better resources, opportunities and facilities for students. But while the push for greater campus diversity continues, what specific resources are currently available to LGBTQ students and allies? How can other students learn about the LGBTQ community, and what improvements can be made to the current resources? From the expansion of Gender Open Housing to campaigns by student groups to foster a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere, LGBTQ issues and other diversity issues have played a central role in student life this past school year.
Housing and other facilities
Starting in the fall of 2013, in an expansion of the Gender Open Housing program, both Foster Walker West and 1835 Hinman will offer Gender Open Housing – for upperclassmen 18 and older, not freshmen – on the third floors of both buildings. According to the Residential Services website, Gender Open Housing’s main goal is to accommodate different gender identities and sexualities, but any two friends, regardless of gender identity, can live together through this program. Additionally, there will be communal, gender-neutral bathrooms available to those who live in Gender Open Housing.
McCormick sophomore Redmond Lhota, co-president of Rainbow Alliance, noted that there are also gender-neutral bathrooms in several academic buildings; Northwestern's Gender Protection Initiative lists University, Harris and Swift Halls as examples. Lhota, who has been an advocate of gender-neutral bathrooms, said that he pushed for such bathrooms in Tech and finally succeeded in that goal this year. Lhota also said that Rainbow Alliance and ASG are working together to present the administration with a plan and supporting research to establish more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.
According to the Northwestern University Study Abroad Department, LGBTQ students must take into account a number of considerations before deciding to study abroad, including host country perceptions of gender identity and sexuality as well as the availability of LGBTQ-friendly housing. Members of the LGBTQ community must be aware of the potential discrimination they may face – or, on the flip side, of the increased freedom of expression they may experience. Finally, LGBTQ individuals should consider such legal issues as anti-discrimination laws and laws regarding sexual behavior between people of the same sex before making the decision to study abroad. The Northwestern University Study Abroad Department offers both campus resources and international resources, such as Amnesty International, on its website to help LGBTQ students make this decision.
There are multiple student groups on campus that consist of both members of the LGBTQ community and allies. Rainbow Alliance brings guest lecturers to Northwestern to speak about issues like media coverage of the LGBTQ community and, according to its website, engages in activism and advocacy to address issues that impact the LGBTQQIAP (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex Ally Pansexual) community. Northwestern Greek Allies aims to spread awareness about LGBTQ issues and reaches out to members of the LGBTQ community, especially within the Greek system, thereby attempting to promote campus diversity. Northwestern’s graduate school is also committed to these goals, and it acts on this commitment through the Queer Pride Graduate Student Association.
The LGBT Resource Center, which falls under Multicultural Student Affairs, uses student groups and campus programming – including “Out of the Closet and Into the Workforce” and Lavender Graduation – to increase awareness of LGBTQ issues and to provide a safe space here on campus for members of the LGBTQ community. Some programs that the LGBT Resource Center promotes are a welcome reception for LGBTQ students, Trans* Ally Training, Social Justice Ally Training and lunches for faculty members and students in the LGBTQ community. Trans* Ally Training is a three-hour program designed to educate the Northwestern community about trans* individuals and to offer strategies for being a trans* ally. Social Justice Ally Training is also a three-hour program, with the purpose of enabling participants to discuss power, oppression and privilege. Stemming from the LGBT Resource Center is the LGBTQA Campus Advisory Network, which trains and educates members of the LGBTQ community and allies while providing them with resources they may need.
Room for improvement
Although Northwestern has expanded several of its LGBTQ resources, Lhota and Medill senior Zachary Wichter - a teaching assistant for a gender and sexual minority reporting class in Medill - agreed that the resources and opportunities available to the LGBTQ community could be improved. Wichter, a former co-president of Rainbow Alliance and co-founder of the Northwestern chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, said that if it were up to him, "every dorm on campus would be gender-open and all of the bathrooms on campus would also be gender-neutral." Lhota made a similar argument, saying that having two dorms with designated Gender Open Housing suites isolates trans* and other people who utilize this program from everyone else.
In addition, Lhota recommends that more professors become Safe Space trained through the LGBT Resource Center and that Northwestern improves its name change process. The Safe Space Ally Workshop attempts to educate individuals who support the LGBTQ community and make it easier for LGBTQ students to partake in college life while being treated with respect. Regarding the name change process, Lhota said that it was difficult to get his name changed because Northwestern separates all of its systems – including Blackboard, CAESAR, financial information and netID – so changing his name in just one place was not enough. Instead, he had to go through a long process, despite the fact that the Registrar's website says it only takes up to 48 hours after the submission of appropriate documents for the name change to go into effect.
Finally, Lhota hopes that Greek life on campus starts to be more accommodating of trans* students.
"It's frustrating to me because I don't know how a trans* person like myself or any other not mainstream identities would find a place in Greek life," Lhota said. "Part of it is that they're limited by their national policies ... It's also really hard when it's a binary system. It's fraternities and sororities; there isn't a middle ground for non-binary people."
Meanwhile, Wichter said that he hopes the LGBT reporting class for which he is a TA – and which is in its first year – becomes a permanent addition to Northwestern's course offerings, in order to make Medill more LGBTQ-friendly. This is something for which Wichter has worked for the past four years.
While Lhota and Wichter both touched on possible improvements to the current set of resources available to the LGBTQ community, Wichter said that processes like the expansion of Gender Open Housing this past year, as well as that of other LGBTQ resources, have been collaborative efforts with the administration, thereby necessitating "baby steps." Meanwhile, Lhota acknowledged that his perspective as a co-president of Rainbow Alliance is not necessarily reflective of Northwestern's entire LGBTQ population.
"Because we are at a fairly liberal university and we generally have the privilege of being out here, people in the LGBTQ community don't always feel the need to utilize the student groups, because they can find their own spaces," he said.